Clarkston won't let Hartland rally this time around, winning quarterfinal rematch to return to semifinals
NOVI — Some scripts are made to be followed.
Some are made to be flipped.
While it felt for much of Tuesday’s quarterfinal game like the same script these same two teams had followed a year ago — with Clarkston building a big lead early, and Hartland inching closer to set up a rally with one of its patented postseason comebacks — the Wolves managed to deviate from the script.
A huge, six-run sixth inning helped Clarkston finally “Hartland-proof” its lead, all but putting the Division 1 quarterfinal out of reach, setting up an 11-3 win that sends the Wolves back to the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
“Yes. It was a big sigh. … Feels good, feels really good,” said Don Peters of the relief of getting back to East Lansing, after two years of expectations following the 2017 run to the semis when the core group were freshmen and sophomores. “It does feel good. There is a sigh of relief, I think, because they did it so early. I think the one thing is, they were there, and they know what it’s like now. They’ve gotten through those expectations and the pressure, and now we’ll just play ball.”
The Wolves (36-2) will face Howell (35-3) in Thursday’s late D1 semifinal at MSU’s Secchia Stadium, at 5:30 p.m. Bay City Western and Warren Regina will meet at 3 p.m. on the other side of the D1 bracket.
For both teams, it would been a disappointment not to make it past Tuesday’s quarterfinal, considering they’d each made MSU trips in the previous two seasons. The Eagles punched their ticket a year ago by rallying to beat the Wolves, 3-2, then beat Howell en route to a title-game appearance, where they lost 6-4 to Caledonia.
“Definitely, for both teams. But we put our heart and soul into this game, and I know they did, too. But you just gotta want it more,” said junior Abbey Tolmie, whose solo home run kick-started the big sixth-inning rally for the Wovles. “We’ve played Hartland many times, and I know they have the fire to come back. I saw that throughout the game, and I knew we couldn’t let that happen again. For me, it was all the work I wasn’t going to let go by. So I took my chances with the pitch, and swung at it. … I was looking for a line drive, but if it goes, it goes.”
Sierra Kersten followed with an RBI triple, then scored on an error on the throw to the plate, as the inning began to snowball on the Eagles. Another single and an error set up Nyah Ansel’s three-run home run that provided the coup de grace.
Up until that point, it felt like Hartland was setting up a late-inning comeback.
“For sure. For sure. We’ve been through this. We’ve been through it. So even from our morning talk as a team, we knew that was going to happen, and we expected it,” Tolmie said. “We’ve played them many times, and they’re a great team, but we weren’t going to let them get us three times.”
Even coach Don Peters was more worried about the upcoming Eagles hitters in the bottom of the sixth than he was about his own, when he called timeout early in Tolmie’s at-bat, and walked all the way from the third-base coaches’ box to the visiting dugout to remind his troops of something. When Tolmie’s line-shot home run cleared the fence, he finally could exhale a bit.
“Yes. Definitely. Actually, the timeout was make sure you’re going over the charts for when they come up. I had no idea that we were going to get that kind of runs,” Peters said of the Wolves finally getting to Hartland’s Rachel Everett, who’d shut them out in a regular-season meeting. “The more looks that you get at someone, the better. I don’t want to take anything away from her, because that’s a good team, and the kids worked really, really hard to do what they did today.”
Early on, the Wolves got runs, but it wasn’t necessarily because they were beating up on Everett. The three runs they scored in the first — two of them on an RBI single by Kersten — were aided by four Hartland errors. Two more runs scored on errors in the second inning, as Clarkston jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
An uphill battle against a Clarkston defense — headed by pitcher Liv Warrington, who hadn’t surrendered a postseason run entering the day — for sure, but not insurmountable.
“This team, even when they get down, it never feels like — even when they make mistakes on the field; it’s weird — it never feels like its deflated. They just kind of bounce back,” said first-year coach Taylor Wagner, an assistant on last year’s runner-up squad. “With a super talented team, and she’s throwing the ball so well — four errors in the first inning, that’s not the way you want to start. I think we can commend them (the Eagles) for the way they bounced back. It’s just too many errors. And they know that. That’s going to be the tale of what this game was. But those are two really talented teams that just played. It’s awesome to see how they bounced back from that, and showed that grit they’ve showed all season.”
The Eagles strung together three consecutive singles to start the fourth, with Jordan Piatek’s RBI single getting Hartland on the board, down 5-1. Brooke Cowan’s two-run triple in the fifth made it 5-3, and a whole new ballgame.
But with the potential tying run twice more coming to the plate in the fifth, Warrnington wiggled out of that jam with a pair of pop-ups, then struck out the side in the sixth, and allowed just one baserunner ( a one-out walk in the seventh) the rest of the way to close out the win, striking out a total of 14 batters.
“We knew exactly what we were going to see from her: a lot of up pitches. She’s a really good pitcher, a helluva pitcher. And you can tell we don’t swing and miss that much, so she was really spinning the ball,” Wagner said. “It was going to be laying off that high stuff, and finding your pitch. I don’t think we did the best job of that, I but I think we did well enough to string some hits together.”
This time, there was no Hartland comeback, but Wagner was still proud of her team’s district and regional crowns, after losing a large group of seniors from last year’s runner-up squad.
“It was a similar experience. It’s easy to compare last year and this year, and you’re going to hear those kind of comparisons for the rest of the week, but this is a completely different team. A few of them were still on that team, but the fact that this team, with how youthful they are, and how little experience they had, that they had the season they did is just absolutely phenomenal,” Wagner said. “They should be so proud of themselves. We do still graduate seven seniors, but we’re still a very young team and we’re going to be very young for a couple of years.”